BY BLESSED MHLANGA
THOUSANDS of families risk being left homeless as government is mooting a massive eviction and property destruction programme to clear out illegal settlers occupying Harare wetlands and council land.
Harare Metropolitan Affairs minister Oliver Chidawu has declared war on thousands of illegal settlers allocated land by mostly Zanu PF cooperatives and land barons at the height of former President Robert Mugabe’s campaign to retain political power in urban areas.
Over 10 000 homesteads in Budiriro, Crowborough, Kambuzuma, Harare City Council farms and other areas have been targeted for demolition as government moves to thwart a potential humanitarian crisis.
“We have to be bold and tackle the issue of illegal settlers, but we are going to do it with a human face, we are asking all those who know they are illegally-settled to move out on their own. If they fail to do that, we are going to remove them by force. We can’t allow these illegal settlements because they are a threat to wetlands and cause massive pollution to our water bodies,” he said.
Zimbabwe is in the grip of a deep economic crisis characterised by high unemployment estimated at above 80% and illegal settlements are growing in every city as local authorities struggle to meet the demand for housing.
Chidawu’s declaration evokes memories of government’s 2005 slum-clearance operation called Operation Murambatsvina, meaning to “drive out the filth” which displaced some 700 000 Zimbabweans, according to human rights groups in a military-style operation that ran for two months.
Zanu PF led urban land invasions with most of its top brass at that time ripping off desperate homeseekers by parcelling out thousands of stands under the guise of empowerment.
The illegal settlements have now overrun council’s capacity to provide enough potable water and treat sewerage.
Chidawu said the homes will be destroyed by force if the owners do not find alternative accommodation by themselves.
“We can’t call that empowerment, we also cannot have soft hearts, because in doing so we put the greater Harare at risk of cholera and other diseases. We have to act and all people on wetlands, and illegal settlers must stop construction and move out or be moved by force,” he said.
Engineers have also added their voice, saying government must ensure that construction on wetlands is stopped forthwith.
Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers’ information communication technology division chairman Jacob Kudzayi Mutisi said: “The construction and development is so rampant that all ventilation and wetland areas in the likes of Mabelreign and Sundridge have all been sold out and under some kind of construction development. As engineers, we are hereby requesting the government, local authorities and construction firms to immediately stop all developments and constructions that are taking place on all wetlands and strategic open spaces.”
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the 1971 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and has domesticated provisions for the protection of wetlands under the Environmental Management Act (Cap 20:27), Statutory Instrument 7 of 2007 on Environmental Management (Environmental Impact Assessment and Ecosystems Protection) Regulations.